MICHAEL MURPHENKO

towards the treasure

oksana gryshchenko [curator's text]

Why a labyrinth? Enigmatic and mysterious, labyrinths take us back to the magic of childhood, when excited, curious, and a little anxious, we still impatiently demand to meet our next new adventure. “Laborintus we write, that beautiful word” – says Borges , it holds the promise of the… treasure.

The aim of this project is not to pose questions, but to find answers. The labyrinth is a portal, a star-gate that will take those who enter on the journey to find the centre and what is held there. We search for the centre because we are both certain it exists and that we can find it.

a three-dimensional work of art, visually assessable both from close-up as well as from a “bird’s eye view”

The idea of this project was conceived in 2009, when the artist, Michael Murphenko, visited Tsekh gallery in Kyiv for the first time. The Gallery’s interior, with its high industrial-style ceilings and 2nd level balcony, which serves as an excellent observation point of the main exhibition area, demanded the creation of a large-scale and spatial art object. The concept of this Labyrinth was born on the spot: a three-dimensional work of art, visually assessable both from close-up as well as from a “bird’s eye view”, operating as an interactive piece that the onlooker must not only observe, but experience by making his own journey through it. The Artist chose to build the “single path” labyrinth over a more entertaining maze. This allowed him to have more control over the viewer’s experience, but most importantly, it ensured the walker’s concentration on his/ her own reactions rather than on externalised interactions.

The difference between the unicursal labyrinth and multicursal maze, as well as the significance of the centre, constitutes a large portion of the philosophical discourse in the realms of the labyrinthine readings. The history of labyrinth goes back as far as five thousand years ago , and while the depictions of the labyrinth with time became more intricate and complex, up until 1500, the labyrinth remained a unicursal structure with single entrance and a decisive turn in the centre that brought one out back to the beginning. During Medieval times, this clearly defined centre of the labyrinth symbolised God, but starting from the Renaissance, in accordance with humanistic teachings, the person in the labyrinth became its centre. And later, the predominantly depicted form is a multicursal Maze.

Oliva believes that the maze is the more appropriate form for the contemporary man: “Until the Renaissance, the labyrinth was a structure in which you always got to the centre, after the Renaissance, with Mannerism, on the other hand, the labyrinth became the place of loss. So there is a labyrinth that is closer to our sensibility and that begins with Mannerism and the Baroque.”

"rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo"

Of course, today we are exposed to another type of labyrinth, which is nether uni- or multicursal: the Internet. Long before Internet became part of our everyday life, Eco has named this third type of labyrinth without center a rhizome. He got this idea from Deleuze and Guattari: a "rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo." Eco used the rhizome’s labyrinth to describe human culture, a structure where all points can be connected to all other points and in this way provide a practically unlimited number of paths. “No one can provide a global description of the whole rhizome; not only because the rhizome is multi-dimensionally complicated, but also because its structure changes through the time.”

The path you walked, the path you are going to walk and the path you are on right now can only be unicursal

A Labyrinth is a path. It does not truly matter what construction we see in front of us: weather unicursal or multicursal, in the end there is only one path. There is no need to ponder why the ancients seemed to confuse labyrinth and maze. The path you walked, the path you are going to walk and the path you are on right now can only be unicursal.

Labyrinths stand in the centre of the mystery of life and death and transformation. According to Lindsay, the origins of the Labyrinth “lie in the meandering or spiralling movement of the ancestral wanderings, expressed both in dance and ritual-design… it represents the death-rebirth passage of the initiate from one level of life to another.” The labyrinth is also a hero’s path, where “only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new”.

The historical meaning of the Labyrinth as a symbol of a spiritual journey, a mystical place where ritual and meditation take place, closely intertwines with the artist’s own interests and influences. “Magic places”, “Real evolution”, “Hilism”, “Mavka” ,to name a few projects of Michael Murphenko, which explored his recurring art themes of alchemy, hero’s path, inner transformation and true reality. Yet never have they come together so explicitly in one project, as in the Labyrinth.

All elements of this project have been conceived and created as one totem: Longissima via, Labyrinthine Path

In his search for the centre, the artist turns to alchemy: “In alchemical symbolism… the unconscious psyche and matter are not yet separated; religion, magic, and the natural sciences are not yet divided.” All elements of this project have been conceived and created as one totem: Longissima via, Labyrinthine Path. Lee Sun-Don, the Taiwanese artist and Third Patriarch of the Buddhist Forshangand, with whom Murphenko collaborated in his previous project, “Inner Light”, gives the following definition: “The totem is more than a symbol – specifically, it is the fundamental presentation of all the phenomena and all the energies of the universe; it also represents the states of perfect balance of the cosmos and the harmony of one’s inner and outer worlds.” For Lee, totem is not what can be produced by purely artistic talents, rather it relies on spiritual accomplishment. While Murphenko is no patriarch, he is of the opinion that an artist is a magician, an alchemist, for whom the purpose of art is: “searching and revealing the sense of life. It is in revealing the Real.”

It is justified to look for a new sense and certainty only at a time when all old sense has died. And Baudrillard has pronounced that all has died: Reality, Symbol, God, Image, Art and Evil itself. “Now, the world, even freed from all illusion, does not lend itself at all to reality.”

While thinking he was freeing the world from illusion, Man has actually created the illusion of doubt – all those constructs are layered on top of one another until they reach up to the point of full self-annihilation. Nevertheless, reality did not go anywhere, it is still there for the Man to look at - once the created illusions completely deteriorate and fall away - and he is left with no other choice, or perhaps he himself chooses, to see reality again and for the first time.

Oksana Gryshchenko, Kyiv, May 2011